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Funeral Directors Category: East of England
Co-op Funeral Directors is owned by your local co-operative society, Chelmsford Star, which was founded in in 1867. They’ve been doing funerals since 1936. Chelmsford Star Co-op is affiliated to the wider co-operative movement but remains proudly independent and self-governing. It is not a part of The Co-operative Group nor is it a member of The Co-operative Funeralcare, of which the Good Funeral Guide is critical. Nobody at Co-op Funeral Directors is on commission. They will not try to upsell you. They regard all that sort of thing as horrifying.
As a co-operative, Chelmsford Star is more than just a business. It is supposed to demonstrate a strong social mission to the people in its locality. It is pledged to uphold values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others. We took care to find out if it lives up to these values and we reckon it most certainly does.
Co-op Funeral Directors operates out of 8 funeral homes in the area: Braintree has two branches, one at Clare Road, where you’ll meet Kari, and the other at George Yard, where you’ll find Lynne. At Broomfield it will be Jane, Jenny or Sheila, Danbury is looked after by Vanda and Caroline, Great Baddow is where Mandy is based, at Ingatestone it will be Jacki or Tracy, Cara looks after families at Writtle and Marion and Sancho can be found at Great Dunmow.
We spent a day visiting all but one of them, talking to staff, testing customer service and, to the best of our ability, assuring ourselves that people who have died are cared for here with the greatest respect, dignity and privacy. The good news is that it scores top marks in all respects.
Premises are all roomy, comfortably furnished and painted in un-gloomy, pale colours. They have a nice, homely, welcoming feel. When we visited, all branches had window boxes and some had hanging baskets. This is not a wealthy business, you’ll be pleased to hear, but they do try hard to make a good impression. We spent time behind the scenes too and were hugely impressed. They are meticulous in everything they do and we especially like the very careful way they protect the privacy of all who come into their care. When they come in, everyone has their own pillow and soft blanket. A test we always apply is: Would this be good enough for my Mum? We felt 100% sure that it would.
The frontline staff are great. Craig Jackson, Funeral Operation Manager, makes sure that he only employs the best, and this is what matters most to you. Everyone we met was good at their job, of course. But they’re not cold, efficient professionals, they are lovely, warm, normal human beings just like you who give you all the time you need. It is this human face of the business that made the greatest impression on us. Everyone we met genuinely cares about every client. They really are outstanding.
The person with whom you arrange the funeral is called a family liaison officer, and she will be there for you up to the day of the funeral. On the day itself, the funeral will be conducted by Craig, Mark or Anne Marie, and they’ll introduce themselves to you beforehand. Your family liaison officer will not automatically attend the funeral too, but if you’d like her to be there, a familiar face on a difficult day, just ask and they will arrange it for you. We think this very important.
Once the funeral is over, they are still there for you. Some clients like to pop in for a cuppa – some have been doing it for ages. You’ll be very welcome. Others join the bereavement groups, (temporarily suspended because of the pandemic, but will be reinstated as soon as restrictions allow) – this is how Co-op Funeral Directors best demonstrates its commitment to the social and emotional wellbeing of local people. There’s no charge and anyone can join, not just former clients. The accent is very strongly on self-help – people who come share their experiences and feelings and cheer each other up, and also do what they can for each other in practical ways. This is so popular that some people stay for years – just so that they can go on helping others. Every year there’s a coach trip to the seaside or a fun venue, although since the advent of Covid-19, the bereavement groups have been kept going as phone calls rather than in person.
For those who are deeply affected by grief, they can help signpost you to specialist one-to-one services in the area.
People hereabouts tend to favour a formal traditional funeral, and this is something that Craig and his staff do extremely well. They dress up smartly in uniforms trimmed with blue, wearing blue ties and cravats. They run a modern fleet of spotlessly maintained Jaguars.
Perhaps you don’t want a traditional funeral, or perhaps you’d like a traditional funeral with a few personalised touches. We found that Craig is very aware of, and sensitive to, the changing needs of the people he serves and we were really pleased by the way in which he gladly accommodates those needs. So if you want family members to walk in front of the hearse, Craig will happily take a back seat. If you want to carry the coffin, no problem. If you want to lower the coffin into the grave, no problem. They’ll be there for you to make sure you do it safely!
If you want a less formal funeral, or something more alternative, talk it over with them. They’ll do their best to get it right for you.
What is important?
The Chelmsford Star team pay the greatest attention to detail. As a local funeral celebrant Chris Cornell told us, what marks them out is that “they go the extra mile to get things just right”. For this, all credit must go to the head of funerals, Craig, a born funeral director if ever we saw one. He lives and breathes his job, and he inspires the highest standards in everyone who works here. Everyone here is focussed on getting it just right for you.
What is different?
Because it is a part of its local co-operative, Co-op Funeral Directors is extremely well-integrated with its community and, as a social enterprise, can draw on the strength and support of its parent body in delivering social value. It also benefits from the critical oversight of its parent body, and this stimulates its very high standards. Its holistic support of the bereaved makes it very much more than just a business. Its people make it exceptional.
- Your first call will be answered, during office hours, by the person in the branch you have chosen. If you ring at night, your call will be answered by Craig or Mark or Corinne.
- Home Visits – Very happy to make arrangements with you either at the funeral home or at your own home.
- Embalming – Not as a matter of course. If it would be, in their opinion, beneficial or necessary, they will discuss it with you sensitively and carefully.
- Family Participation – If you want to carry the coffin, they’ll show you how. If you’d like to come in and wash and dress the person who has died, they’ll be there for you. If you’d just like to come in do their hair, that’s absolutely no problem. They believe in empowering you to do what you want and they help you in any way they can.
- Same sex person to wash and dress? – Yes, if you want. No problem. Just ask.
- Ethnic Specialism – The staff are all trained and experienced in arranging funerals for people of different faiths and funeral traditions.
- Local Celebrants – Excellent local celebrants to choose from if you do not want a religious minister.
- Home arranged funerals – If you would like the person who has died to stay at home until the day of the funeral, they will willingly work with you to achieve this.
- Website – Useful info well set out.
- Client Support – After the funeral, call in anytime for a cuppa – they’ll always be pleased to see you. There are 4 bereavement support groups, all of them thriving and vibrant.
- Money matters – Price-wise, mid-range. You can find cheaper in this area but service values here are of the highest: they look after you very well. If you are a member of Chelmsford Star, you get your share of the profit. If you are having to be careful with your budget, their Simple Funeral is affordable and offers more options than you tend to find at other funeral directors. If money is a problem, do be upfront about it and they will help you to find any grants to which you are entitled. If you want to plan your funeral in advance, they sell their own funeral plan and the money is held in trust by Chelmsford Star Co-operative.
- Added value — They offer a good range of products in which to keep some or all of the cremation ashes, from jewellery through keepsakes to urns. They hold a remembrance gathering every Christmastime. They’ll offer you a book of poetry from which you can choose funeral readings — and a very nice bookmark with a poem written by a local poet.
- Parking – At Broomfield, round the back in Beehive Lane, or in the Beehive pub car park opposite. At Danbury, park outside or by the church on the green. At Ingatestone, park round the back. At Writtle, park where you can. At Braintree, there’s ample parking outside. At Dunmow, park in the pay-and-display and Clare will reimburse your fee.
Highly professional and anything but slick and soulless. A regular winner of customer awards and an Investor in People. An extremely well-run business staffed by lovely people who are kind and open-minded, and who will work hard to enable you to arrange exactly the funeral you want. No package funerals here!
Any decisions you take on engaging the services of a funeral director should be based on your views and research. You should not rely solely upon the views and opinions offered by us.